Amid a quadrennium of major leadership change, USA Swimming is securing some coaching continuity. The organization will announce Tuesday that it is hiring 81-year-old Jon Urbanchek, a veritable aquatic Yoda, to its newly created position of national team technical advisor.
Urbanchek is signing on for his seventh stint with the U.S. Olympic swim team, having previously served on the coaching staff in 1992, ’96, 2000, ’04, ’08 and ’12. He’s coached 44 swimmers who qualified for the Olympics and won more than 20 medals, and has mentored many of the leading coaches in America.
“This is the final chapter,” Urbanchek told Yahoo Sports. “I retired from college coaching [at Michigan] in 2004, but I never retired from USA Swimming. I soak up all the energy from young coaches and young swimmers and give it back to them. My message is very simple: Keep it moving.”
Urbanchek’s hiring is a nod to the ingrained structure of USA Swimming, a hugely successful product that has undergone a metamorphosis since the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The organization hired Major League Soccer executive Tim Hinchey as its president and CEO last July. Hinchey then promoted former Olympian Lindsay Mintenko to national team managing director, USA Swimming’s first female – and first non-coach – in that role. With a new generation of American coaches stepping into increasingly larger national leadership roles – Stanford’s Greg Meehan, California’s Dave Durden, Indiana’s Ray Looze and Louisville’s Arthur Albiero among them – Urbanchek provides the wisdom of an elder statesman.
“Jon’s knowledge is unparalleled,” Mintenko said. “He’s relatable, he’s respected, and he brings a sense of humor, which is fantastic.”
There will be transition in the pool as well, as Michael Phelps, winner of a record 28 Olympic medals, seems unlikely to launch yet another comeback. The American male swimming baton is being passed to former Florida star Caeleb Dressel, who had his international breakout last summer with seven gold medals at the FINA World Championships. The U.S. female contingent again figures to be led by dominant distance swimmer Katie Ledecky, the current world record holder in the 400, 800 and 1,500-freestyles.
The team America sends to Tokyo in 2020 will begin taking shape in a month, when the Phillips 66 National Championships are contested in Irvine, Calif. That will be the qualifying meet for the Pan-Pacific Championships later this summer, while also serving as the primary qualifier for the 2019 World Championships and other international competitions.
“This summer is really going to define what the teams internationally and domestically are going to look like for the next two years,” Mintenko said. “This is a big summer for us.”
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